young boy swinging

Why is confidence important? 

Confidence helps us deal with the challenges in life. If we are confident, we believe in our abilities and feel hopeful that we can achieve our goals. We are also more willing to try new things, and this helps us to learn. Having confidence also means we are more likely to feel comfortable with ourselves and that we have something worthwhile to give. 

Confidence helps us interact with other people, which makes it easier for us to form relationships. We live in a social world, so our relationships with others are of considerable importance to our wellbeing. Confidence is an essential part of building relationships - the more confident we are, the stronger, healthier relationships we will be able to build with others. 

Our main educational aim should be to encourage the growth of competent, caring, loving, and lovable people.

Nel Noddings

When parents are asked what they want for their children, they often say they want them to feel confident. Confidence is an important part of the Scottish Curriculum for Excellence. Teachers are being asked to enable all young people to become 'confident individuals'. Feeling confident about yourself is one of the things that leads to a flourishing life.

What is a confident child or young person?

Confidence means slightly different things to different people. Here, we are talking about a child or young person who:

  • believes in their own ability to do things 
  • has a genuine sense of their own worth 
  • takes responsibility for their actions
  • feels optimistic about life.

Some children and young people may seem naturally more confident than others, but confidence isn’t fixed. It can grow and develop. And if it does, children and young people are more likely to have fulfilling lives.

Confidence is not about how we behave on the outside - it is about our inner feelings of self-belief. One confident child may be very popular, willing to speak up in class or even act on stage. Another confident child may sit quietly in class and have a couple of close friends. So, two confident children may appear very different. But they are both able and willing to learn new things. Both will try hard because they will be optimistic about what they can do.

As an adult who lives with or works with children or young people, you have an important role to play in encouraging confidence in them. You can help children and young people develop the four components of confidence listed above by how you act and what you say.

Did you know?

Confidence is contagious! Research has shown that teachers with high confidence in their teaching ability create confident pupils. Parents who have confidence in their ability as a parent improve their children’s self-beliefs and capabilities.

Pajares, F. (2005) Self-efficacy during childhood and adolescence. Implications for teachers and parents. In: Self-Efficacy Beliefs of Adolescents. Greenwich, Connecticut: Information Age Publishing.

Components of confidence

Belief in your own ability to do things

A child or young person’s belief in their own ability to do things is important for their motivation, perseverance and success in life. 

This self-belief (sometimes referred to as self-efficacy) can motivate a child or young person more than their actual skill level. So, a child who truly believes they can pass a test or ride a bike or write a poem may be more likely to achieve it than another child who has better ability, but who doesn’t believe they can do it. 

Whether you think you can or think you can't - you are right. 

Henry Ford

Having a strong belief that you can do something will help you to try harder and to keep trying even when you find it difficult. For example, a child who has a realistic belief that they are a good footballer will keep trying even when they don’t make the team. An author, who has a realistic belief that their book is good, will cope with rejection and will keep trying to get it published.

And the more things a child or young person believes they can do, the more likely they are to generalise that self-belief to other areas of their lives. So they begin to believe they have the ability to try, persevere and succeed in a whole range of activities.

Growth Mindset

A study found that some children kept trying when tasks got difficult and didn’t see themselves as failing when they made mistakes. Other children gave up easily when tasks became challenging and tried to avoid carrying out further similar tasks. 

The first group of children were termed as having a ‘Growth Mindset’ - they believed they could improve their performance through hard work, determination and by learning more. These children enjoyed challenge. Failure and mistakes were not seen as an indication of their ability and therefore it wasn’t a risk to try and fail at tasks.

The children who gave up easily were termed as having a ‘Fixed Mindset’ - they believed that their ability was fixed, they were either good at something or they weren’t, and believed that there was nothing they could do about that. These children would avoid tasks they found challenging. Failure and mistakes called into question their ability and therefore their self-worth was on the line when they didn’t do well at tasks.

Further studies found that the type of feedback children got could influence whether they developed a Growth Mindset or a Fixed Mindset:

  • Children who were praised for effort ("You tried really hard there" or "You took your time to figure that out") kept trying when the tasks became more difficult, improved their performance and had steady feelings about the tasks whether they were easy or more difficult. This is a Growth Mindset.
  • Children who were praised for their ability ("You’re really good at these puzzles" or "Wow, you must be really clever to get that right") developed Fixed Mindset behaviours when tasks got difficult, gave up easily, avoided the task and lied about how many they got right. Their enjoyment of tasks decreased over time and their performance got worse.

So praising children for their effort and how hard they try really makes a difference to what they belief about themselves and how well they can do.

Bandura and Dweck (1985), Mueller and Dweck (1998).

Here's a video of Carol Dweck talking about mindsets: